Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Raining? Use an umbrella, not a lens cap.

It's a gray day in Seattle, just like yesterday, the day before, and the week before that. It's the end of May, and I've been able to barbeque only twice so far this year. And one of those times was in the rain.

So what does this have to do with nature photography? If you only photograph (or barbeque) when the weather is just right, there may be long periods of time when you don't get to do it.

You may have to change your photographic style a bit. Sweeping landscapes can appear dull under a battleship gray sky. Here are a few things to try to make art outdoors even when the weather isn't ideal. (I've had to use all of these techniques this spring.)

Patterns of nature

Look for patterns large and small. Is there an interesting pattern in the arrangement of flowers? Do the blooms on grass stalks line up in an interesting way?

Take time to look at the little patterns that make up the bigger landscape. Those little patterns can make interesting photographs and you can photograph them even if the sky is an ugly color.

Get close

Overcast days are my favorite for macro photography, a type of photography where you make the little details appear larger than life. The clouds soften the sunlight, preventing harsh shadows. Take time to examine the tiniest details in everything.

This is an area where you may be limited by your equipment. All lenses have a minimum focusing distance. Some can focus on subjects that are just a few inches away; many cannot. If you have an interchangeable lens camera but don't have a macro lens, you can buy relatively inexpensive extension tubes that let you focus closer to your subject than you could otherwise.  (If you have a point-and-shoot, press the mode button until the flower icon appears.)

Photograph the rain

Trying to photograph rain is a great creative exercise. I didn't really appreciate rain until I was working on my book about the cycle of water. I realized I didn't have an image that illustrated rain well and I had to go out and make one. It's harder than it sounds. The image at the top of this post is the result of that effort.

Think in terms of creating an image that tells a story. Imagine you've been assigned to come up with an image to be the opening spread for an article about rain. Think of a concept and keep refining it until you come up with one single image that illustrates how much it's been raining.

Exercise your creativity

Creativity and muscle strength have a lot in common. If you were training for a marathon and took a month off, you'll probably be out of breath during the first run after your break. Creating art is the same. If it's been a while since you've taken a photo, you'll probably find your creativity has suffered a bit.

It's okay to hate the rain, but the practice you gain from photographing despite it will help you come up with more creative images when the weather is better.

(Check out a full preview of Kevin's book, Running in Circles, which traces the cycle of water.)

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